From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

The Coins of Sabina


A Map of Mints In Operation
During the Reign of Hadrian

Distribution

Minting during the Roman Empire was not as
standardized as today’s minting system. Each Emperor could choose one or more mints to produce his coinage. Some only allowed the mint at Rome to produce their silver and gold coins, while others allowed their coins to be produced abroad.

The lack of industrial machinery meant that all coins had to be struck by hand. An engraver would carve two “dies,” or metal stamps, that depicted what would be seen on the coin. One die, called the “obverse,” was placed in an anvil. A disk of precious metal was placed over this. The “mallitor” (the person who struck the coin) would then hold the “reverse” die over the coin and strike it with a hammer. The disk of metal was crushed between the hammer and anvil and became a coin of the realm!

During this period, it was more difficult to enforce proper minting procedures. Without machines, human error was frequent. Sometimes coins were struck off-center or at an angle. At other times, an obverse die might be combined with the wrong reverse die, making an accidental hybrid coin. And of course, there was always the temptation to forge extra coins to make a little money on the side. It’s no wonder we switched to machines!